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Judge throws out L.A. jury verdict awarding millions to Dole workers

July 15, 2010 |  3:00 pm

A judge threw out a multimillion-dollar award Thursday granted by an L.A. jury to six Nicaraguan men in a lawsuit against food giant Dole, finding that fraud by American and Nicaraguan attorneys had tainted the trial.

California 2nd District Court of Appeal Judge Victoria G. Chaney issued the ruling after presiding over the original six-month trial, which resulted in a $2.3-million verdict against Dole.

Tellez vs. Dole Food Co. marked the first case tried in the U.S. over injuries dating from the 1970s allegedly caused by the chemical dibromochloropropane, or DBCP, which Dole continued to apply in Central America after it was banned in the U.S. over concerns that it caused sterility.

Chaney’s ruling was highly awaited in Nicaragua, where tens of thousands have claimed various medical conditions resulting from Dole’s practices, and the case of the banana workers has been transformed into something of a political movement.

Chaney made sweeping findings in April 2009 -- two years after the original verdict was handed down -- that a second batch of cases had been based on an elaborate international scheme by plaintiffs' attorneys who tried to recruit fake banana workers, manipulate medical test results and defraud the American court system.

Her ruling was based largely on testimony by 27 secret witnesses. After Chaney dismissed those pending cases, Dole asked the court of appeal to dismiss the Tellez verdict.

The appellate court ordered plaintiffs to prove their case was not based on fraud. In hearings over five days in June and July, attorneys on both sides exchanged accusations of fraud, forgery, bribery, corruption and everything in between.

An attorney representing the six men alleged that Dole had gotten the witnesses to testify to the purported fraud by giving them lavish treatment and cash payments inconceivable in the poor Central American country.

A throng of attorneys representing Dole contended that the Nicaraguan men were "foot soldiers" taking part in a fraudulent scheme.

-- Victoria Kim